Keith Gibson is working tirelessly to make the Tug Fork River tireless.
The former coal miner is now in his third year of operating Hatfield McCoy Airboat Tours, giving visitors breezy, 40-minute jaunts up and down the picturesque waterway separating West Virginia and Kentucky.
While Gibson can control the quality of his presentations and his 550-horsepower boat’s comfort, safety and speed, controlling unsightly riverbank trash and debris is a bit more difficult.
Instead of throwing up his hands in surrender, Gibson explored the idea of laying down a reward for Tug Fork tires, giving people a cash incentive to muscle discarded tires out of the stream’s silty bed and banks and haul them to a nearby shredder at Mountain State Recycling, in North Matewan. He thought a bounty of $5 per tire would do the trick and approached a number of possible funding sources to see if he could make his vision a reality.
As it turned out, West Virginia Hub’s “Turn This Town Around” program and the National Coal Heritage Area each ponied up $2,500, and the Mingo County Commission contributed $1,500 to produce a $6,500 reward pool — enough to remove and recycle 1,300 tires.
On Friday, scores of bounty hunters, joined by inmate work crews from Pike County, Kentucky, which lies across the Tug from West Virginia’s Mingo County, waded into the river in the vicinity of Matewan and began piling tires onto canoes, kayaks, jet skis and jon boats for transport to pick-up sites…